Diving into the depths: Tampa Bay Rays

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This is part of a 30-article series looking at each team’s depth chart headed into spring training.
Tampa Bay Rays
Rotation
1. James Shields
2. Matt Garza
3. Jeff Niemann
4. David Price
5. Wade Davis
6. Andy Sonnanstine
7. Jeremy Hellickson
8. Lance Cormier
9. Carlos Hernandez
10. Heath Phillips
11. Alex Torres
Davis impressed in his 2010 audition, going 2-2 with a 3.72 ERA in six starts last September, so he should enter camp as the clear favorite for the fifth spot over Sonnanstine.
Bullpen
1. Rafael Soriano
2. J.P. Howell
3. Grant Balfour
4. Dan Wheeler
5. Lance Cormier
6. Randy Choate
7. Andy Sonnanstine
8. Dale Thayer
9. Jeff Bennett
10. Jake McGee
11. Mike Ekstrom
12. Winston Abreu
13. R.J. Swindle
14. Paul Phillips
15. Eduardo Morlan
Troy Percival, Jason Isringhausen and Chad Bradford all appear to be riding off into the sunset, but it’s not like any from the group made a real contribution last season anyway. Barring a Sonnanstine trade, the pitching staff would seem to be essentially set. It’s possible that either Choate or Sonnanstine could pitch his way off the team during spring training, but both should be penciled in for the moment.


Catcher
1. Kelly Shoppach
2. Dioner Navarro
3. Jose Lobaton
4. John Jaso
First base
1. Carlos Pena
2. Willy Aybar
3. Dan Johnson
4. Ryan Shealy
5. Chris Richard
Second base
1. Ben Zobrist
2. Willy Aybar
3. Sean Rodriguez
4. Reid Brignac
5. Elliot Johnson
Third base
1. Evan Longoria
2. Willy Aybar
3. Joe Dillon
4. Sean Rodriguez
Shortstop
1. Jason Bartlett
2. Reid Brignac
3. Ben Zobrist
4. Elliot Johnson
There’s been nothing to suggest that the Rays will pursue Felipe Lopez, so it looks like Zobrist will stay at second base. It makes him a bit more of an injury risk, but he’s pretty good defensively there, making him a whole lot more valuable than he’d be as a right fielder.
Left field
1. Carl Crawford
2. Sean Rodriguez
3. Gabe Kapler
4. Fernando Perez
5. Justin Ruggiano
6. Chris Richard
Center field
1. B.J. Upton
2. Fernando Perez
3. Desmond Jennings
4. Gabe Kapler
Right field
1. Matt Joyce
2. Gabe Kapler
3. Ben Zobrist
4. Justin Ruggiano
Designated hitter
1. Pat Burrell
2. Dan Johnson
3. Willy Aybar
The Rays might yet grab someone to compete with Joyce and Burrell for playing time. Jermaine Dye is one name that has come up. A reunion with Rocco Baldelli would also make some sense. Still, I think Joyce will be just fine as a right fielder against right-handers, especially since he’s a plus defender, and if he fails, then sticking Jennings in center and moving Upton to right might be an option by midseason.

The Mets are a mess

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The Mets lost again on Thursday afternoon, suffering a 7-5 defeat at the hands of the Braves. It’s their sixth consecutive loss and the club is now in last place in the NL East. Not exactly the start the Mets envisioned.

Matt Harvey got the start, but lasted only 4 1/3 innings. He gave up six runs on five hits and five walks with only one strikeout. After the game, Harvey said he was tight and that he threw yesterday expecting to start on Friday instead, per Matt Ehalt of The Record. Sounds like no one communicated to Harvey that he’d be starting this afternoon until it was too late for him to properly prepare.

Harvey started because Noah Syndergaard was scratched due to a “tired arm.” Syndergaard blew reporters off after the game, according to Mike Puma of the New York Post. Puma then added that Syndergaard ripped Mets P.R. guy Jay Horwitz for letting reporters approach him.

By the way, the Mets also lost outfielder Yoenis Cespedes to a hamstring injury. Not much else can go wrong in Queens.

Joey Votto isn’t on board with the latest fly ball trend among hitters

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If you haven’t heard, fly balls — not ground balls or line drives — are all the rage among hitters these days. Tigers outfielder J.D. Martinez summed it up perfectly last month when he said, “I’m not trying to hit a [freaking] line drive or a freaking ground ball.” The goal is to maximize damage. Last year, for example, fly balls became hits about 17 percent less often than ground balls (7.4% versus 24.6%), but hitters had a slugging percentage more than twice as much as on ground balls (.539 versus .267). This refocusing has helped hitters like Martinez as well as Ryan Zimmerman reinvigorate their careers.

Reds first baseman Joey Votto, who is as much a student of new age analytics as anyone in the game, doesn’t feel that this approach is necessarily a good one, as Zach Buchanan of the Cincinnati Enquirer reports. Votto said:

Where I get concerned is the guys that make this attempt and burn out too much of their time and don’t get a chance to be their best selves, and either don’t make it to the big leagues or don’t perform their best in the big leagues because they’re always attempting this new style of hitting. I see it with a lot of guys. Everyone tells the good stories, but there’s a lot of s—ty stories of guys who are wasting their time trying things.

Votto added that while the fly ball approach is working right now, pitchers will soon adapt and the fly ball approach won’t be so good anymore. And he’s right. Baseball has always been a game of adjustments. For example, as teams have gotten comfortable with shifting their infield, hitters like the Cubs’ Anthony Rizzo and Kyle Schwarber have both dropped bunts down the third base line for easy hits. Knowing that hitters are aiming to hit fly balls now, pitchers may stay higher in the strike zone more often as one possible solution.

Votto is just trying to stay as well-rounded as possible. He says that he wants to become “unpitchable.” Votto wants to be like Angels outfielder Mike Trout, whom he describes as a guy “who can do absolutely anything he wants” and “at all times [has] all options.”

So far, Votto is having another productive season despite a relatively pedestrian batting average and on-base percentage. He’s hitting .238/.330/.563 with seven home runs and 16 RBI in 94 plate appearances. Coincidentally, he’s been hitting way more fly balls than usual as he’s currently carrying a 42.3 percent rate compared to his 33.1 career average, according to FanGraphs. His line drives are way down to 16.9 percent compared to his 25.4 percent career average.